In 2013, fans of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series rejoiced upon the announcement of a new film based on a standard textbook from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Three years later, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has finally been released.
Taking elements from the fictional book of the same name, the film follows the journey of the eventual textbook’s fictional author Newt Scamander. He stops off in New York on his way to Arizona for a “special delivery” with a suitcase full of magical creatures. He unintentionally runs into trouble with the American Wizarding Government after showing his powers to a No-Maj (nonmagical person; Muggle in Britain). Newt soon discovers that the American Wizarding World is on a precipice, simultaneously dealing with the threat of exposure from suspicious No-Majs and the presence of the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. To make matters worse, a creature has escaped from Newt’s suitcase.
Eddie Redmayne, famous for his Oscar-nominated roles in The Theory of Everything (as renowned physicist Stephen Hawking) and The Danish Girl (as Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery), takes on a vastly different role as the eccentric and introverted Newt Scamander, a magizoologist who is writing a book on magical creatures while raising awareness of them. Scamander is an awkward man who grew up mostly lonely. Redmayne portrays Scamander as a man who deals with creatures better than with humans.
Accompanying Scamander on his journey are Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). Tina is a former Auror working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) who was recently relieved of her duties because of her involvement in the Second Salemers. Jacob is a No-Maj who dreams of opening his own bakery and gets involved in the Wizarding World after an encounter with Scamander. Queenie, Tina’s little sister, is an accomplished Legilimens and is described as a bombshell who soon proves there’s more to her than a pretty face. This ragtag team’s four members have vastly different personalities but are tied together by one similarity: the fact that none of them ever really fit anywhere.
The film’s antagonists come from both magical and nonmagical backgrounds. Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is a high-ranking MACUSA Auror who’s been tracking Grindelwald since his supposed arrival in New York. Early in the movie, it’s obvious that there’s something not quite right about him. Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is the leader of the Second Salemers, a group that believes in the existence of witches and wizards and intends to expose them. Barebone adopted three orphans who follow her beliefs: Chastity (Jenn Murray), Credence (Ezra Miller), and Modesty (Faith Wood-Blagrove). One of Barebone’s children is also hiding a deadly secret that could lead to her destruction.
The movie is set in New York in the 1920s at the height of the jazz era. The near-sepia tones, jazz score, and impeccable costumes, combined with the aged feel of the Wizarding World, bring an Old World charm to the movie. The high-quality special effects also bring to life an array of magical creatures, first and foremost, the impossibly adorable Niffler, a small and anteater-like creature that is attracted to anything shiny. The movie also introduces other creatures, such as the dragon-like Occamy, the clingy Bowtruckle, the mostly invisible Demiguise, the large-yet-gentle Erumpent, and the creature that Scamander traveled to America for, the majestic Thunderbird. All these creatures (and more), as well as their specialized habitats, are kept in Newt’s suitcase.
J. K. Rowling succeeds with her screenwriting debut, bringing forth a story that stays true to her brand of fantasy, one that preaches of hope, love, and whimsy despite dark times. The story tackles several key details that were mentioned in passing in the original series: Gellert Grindelwald’s rise to power and what could happen to a young witch or wizard if their magical powers remained uncontrolled. Moreover, the movie alludes to current issues, such as discrimination. Scamander is quick to defend his creatures from those who don’t understand them and think that they bring nothing but trouble. He also points out that the American Wizarding World need not be completely closed off to the No-Maj population. This first movie simply proves that J. K. Rowling’s still got it. She has created an endless wellspring of stories off the Wizarding World she created.
The all-too-familiar director-producer team of David Yates and David Heyman have successfully reintroduced the Wizarding World to a whole new generation with this movie. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the beginning of a brand-new journey into a world that so many already know and love. The best thing about it is there’s so much more to look forward to.
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